Trump administration prioritizes rural areas over cities in infrastructure spending

April 9, 2018 by  
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The Trump Administration has re-prioritized which kinds of communities, and what kinds of projects, receive funding from the popular $500 million transportation grant program known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). “More than 64 percent of this round of TIGER funding was awarded to rural projects, a historic number that demonstrates this Administration’s commitment to supporting the country’s rural communities,” the Transportation Department said when it announced the grant recipients in March. Democratic strongholds such as New York City , Chicago and Los Angeles received zero funding from these grants, while projects in blue states that were funded focused primarily on those states’ Trump-supporting regions. This means much more money for rural roads and rail projects, and less for bike infrastructure, green-ways, and sustainable urban design projects. The TIGER grant program was first established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package or economic recovery bill, under President Obama . While the discretionary funds are an important tool for the White House, they represent only a small percentage of the Department of Transportation’s distribution of $50 billion each year through the highway trust fund. After trying to eliminate the program twice, Trump recently signed a massive spending bill into law that tripled the program’s budget. Now, it seems, his administration has found a use for TIGER. Related: 69% of Republicans believe global warming’s seriousness is “generally exaggerated” Trump is not the first president to be accused of using the program to favor his political supporters. In 2013, at the start of President Obama’s second term, two-thirds of the TIGER infrastructure funding went to districts represented by Democrats in Congress. Much of this Obama-era funding went towards projects such as bike and pedestrian infrastructure while sometimes giving only the bare minimum required by law to rural areas. In addition to its shift towards rural communities, the Trump Administration, with its well-publicized focus on trade, is also prioritizing upgrades to port infrastructure in Alabama, Maryland and Louisiana. Via ABC News Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Michigan Governor declares Flint water safe, ends free bottled water service

April 9, 2018 by  
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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has announced that Flint water is once again safe to drink, and the state will soon cease the free bottled water service it has provided to Flint residents in the wake of the city’s drinking water crisis. “The scientific data now proves the water system is stable and the need for bottled water has ended,” the office of the Republican governor said in a statement. “Since Flint’s water is now well within the standards set by the federal government, we will now focus even more of our efforts on continuing with the health, education and economic development assistance needed to help move Flint forward.” Residents and local representatives are reportedly hesitant to trust assurances from the same administration that was responsible for the water crisis in the first place. Even though officials declared Flint water  safe based on scientific assessments, the multi-faceted damage caused by the water crisis will be hard to repair. “Governor Snyder has failed to address the psychological trauma that his administration put the people of Flint through,” said Michigan State Representative Sheldon Neeley, who represents much of the majority-black city of 100,000. “The fact is, the people of Flint don’t trust the Snyder administration or the science they pay for — science that previously allowed our city to be poisoned.” Related: 11-year old inventor becomes “America’s Top Young Scientist” for creating lead-detecting sensor Although the city switched from Flint River water to Lake Huron water — the original source of clean water for the city — in 2015, the community remains wary. “I don’t trust the water. Period,” Flint resident Debra Coleman told WJRT local news . “It could be five years from now and I’ll still never drink this water.” While trust remains an issue, some of those responsible for the crisis are now being held accountable. In 2017, six current and former state and local officials were charged for actions that contributed to the crisis. Via Ecowatch and Reuters Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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Astronomers spot the most distant star ever seen 9 billion light-years away

April 2, 2018 by  
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The Environmental Protection Agency is poised to undo Obama -era greenhouse gas emission regulations and fuel economy standards that were designed to encourage the development of cleaner, more efficient vehicles. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt will likely describe the move as lifting burdensome regulations on automakers to support the production of cheaper vehicles, but it doesn’t account for the costs of increased air pollution and continued climate change. Left in place, the rules would have reduced oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels while reducing carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of vehicles produced under the regulations. The rules that are set to be rolled back under the Trump Administration were created in 2012 as one of President Obama’s major initiatives to combat climate change . If allowed to be fully implemented, the rules would have required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Some worry that the United States ‘s decision to step away from stricter emissions standards could set a dangerous precedent around the world. “The concern is that automakers will go around the world basically trying to lobby regulators, saying, look, because the United States has reduced the pace, everywhere else should too,” Anup Bandivadekar, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the New York Times . Related: Congress rejects Trump’s renewable energy budget cuts While American automakers had initially lobbied the Trump Administration for more relaxed standards, they did not expect to see a complete repeal of the rules. “We didn’t ask for that,” claimed Robert Bienenfeld , assistant vice president for environment and energy strategy at American Honda Motor. “The position we outlined was sensible.” In a blog post, Ford Motor Company chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett wrote that “we support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.” The relaxed standards proposed by automakers were viewed as less likely to cause a showdown with California and the dozen other states that follow its lead on strict environmental standards. Now, California is preparing for battle. “We’re going to defend first and foremost existing federal greenhouse gas standards,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told the New York Times . “We’re defending them because they’re good for the entire nation. No one should think it’s easy to undo something that’s been not just good for the country, but good for the planet .” Via the New York Times Images via Depositphotos and the White House

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Astronomers spot the most distant star ever seen 9 billion light-years away

Trump fills his wildlife protection board with big-game trophy hunters

March 16, 2018 by  
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A new federal advisory board commissioned to rewrite rules governing the import of hunted animal trophies has been packed by President Trump with big-game trophy hunters. Many of them maintain close relations to President Trump and his family and are most likely to support Interior Secretary Zinke’s agenda, which is guided by the belief that the most effective way to protect endangered animals is to facilitate their killing by American hunters. The Associated Press conducted a social media and background review of the board’s 16 members and found that their governing philosophy will echo Zinke’s. The assembly of Trump’s wildlife protection board follows news of recent rules changes that would have banned the import of big-game trophies from certain African countries, including Zimbabwe. Although Trump initially claimed he would carry out the Obama-era ban on a practice he called “a horror show,” he quietly reversed this decision in early March . The rule reversal is particularly concerning given reports of corruption in Zimbabwe that indicate that little of the money spent by big-game hunters in the country has actually gone to conservation efforts. Related: Ryan Zinke claims wind energy contributes to global warming Despite the questionable current policies, Trump’s hunter-packed advisory board has some historical precedent. President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, brought conservation to the forefront of American life through his enthusiastic advocacy for wildlife and public access to wild spaces as well as the bills he signed into law, including the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was through this law that presidents were granted the power to create national monuments through executive action. President Obama harnessed this law to create several significant national monuments , including the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine and the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. President Trump is now attempting to use the same power to dismantle Bears Ears. The Trump Administration’s policies raise concerns that the current president will fail to live up to his Republican predecessor Roosevelt’s legacy and will instead threaten the survival of all kinds of life on this planet. Via The New York Times Images via Depositphotos and Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Trump fills his wildlife protection board with big-game trophy hunters

The companies storing energy in cold air

March 16, 2018 by  
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Renewable sources of energy are getting more efficient by the day – yet energy storage remains an obstacle standing in the way of wide adoption. To fill this gap, some companies are thinking outside the box and investing in developing energy storage that relies on cold air. “Compressed air is an interesting technology,” Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at Greentech Media told the BBC . “It can be a form of bulk storage.” Alacaes in Switzerland is one company that has explored cold air energy storage by drilling a hole in the side of the mountain, in which compressed cold air is stored until needed to drive a turbine. Read on to learn more about this and other efforts to hold energy in cold air. Alcaes’s mountain drilling technique may prove effective, though it is limited in its applications. “The downside is it has to rely on specific geological formations… It needs underground caverns which in itself is a limitation,” said Manghani. The United Kingdom-based Highview Power Storage is pioneering an alternative method for cold air energy storage by using refrigeration to cool air to -196 degrees Celsius, at which point air becomes liquid. This liquid air is then held in low pressure environments until it is needed. Related: New rooftop cooling tech beams excess heat into outer space Highview has constructed a facility near Manchester that uses heat generated by burning waste gas from a landfill to expand liquid nitrogen in the stored air. The expanded air is then channeled through a turbine, which generates electricity. Highview expects this facility to be connected to the UK energy grid in spring 2018. Highview hopes their facility will serve as a model for a planet that desperately needs clean energy storage solutions. “Globally the world is realizing that true grid scale, long duration storage is a requirement if we’re to go for a decarbonised future,” Stuart Nelmes, Highview’s engineering director, told the BBC , “and this tech will play a key part in that.” Via BBC Images via Gasworld and Highview Power Storage

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The companies storing energy in cold air

USDA withdraws Obama-era animal welfare standards for organic meat, eggs and dairy

March 14, 2018 by  
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The United States Department of Agriculture has officially withdrawn an Obama-era rule that would have established basic animal welfare standards for organic meat, eggs, and dairy products. The Trump Administration justified its reversal by claiming the rule “exceeds the department’s statutory authority and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program.” The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, which was originally set to go into effect in March 2017, would have required that organic laying hens have access to a full square foot of space indoors. It also would have clarified exactly what qualifies as “access to the outdoors” and introduced additional regulations regarding the transportation of animals for slaughter and general animal handling. In making its decision, the USDA cited the recent success of the American organic food industry. “The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary Greg Ibach said in a statement . “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.” According to the USDA, the number of certified organic farming operations in the United States grew by seven percent in 2017, while organic sales in the United States expanded nearly $3.7 billion from 2015 to 2016, for a total of nearly $47 billion in sales in 2016. Related: Trump’s USDA staff told to use ‘weather extremes’ instead of ‘climate change’ Despite the growing popularity of food labeled organic, the lack of clarity regarding whatis or isn’t organic can leave consumers in the dark over what exactly they are purchasing. The Trump Administration’s withdrawal of animal welfare regulations for organic products shines a light on the hazy definitions that guide the industry’s practices. One would expect that “organic” animal products are ethically sourced from animals that are raised in humane conditions. As it stands, with the rule withdrawn, “organic” simply means that the animals were provided with organic feed. For those hoping for stricter standards, state-level initiatives such as those in Vermont may offer some promise. Unfortunately, it may require a very different White House and Congress for meaningful animal welfare regulations to be put in place. Via One Green Planet Images via Depositphotos (1)

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In surprise vote, Senate keeps Obamas methane rules in place

May 11, 2017 by  
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In a stunning win for environmental activists , the U.S. Senate voted against repealing the BLM methane rule (originally passed during the Obama administration) to limit methane pollution on public land. Overturned with a 51-49 vote , the deciding “No” was from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona . Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), lawmakers can overturn the rules of a previously instated administration within the first 60 days of their enactment. Because of this, Congress has voted 13 times to overturn a selection of Obama rules. Many of these relate to srteam protection, internet privacy and the shooting of hibernating bears, reports BuzzFeed. The outcome of Wednesday’s vote is being lauded as positive news, as the Obama-era rule requires gas drillers to limit leaking, venting or burning methane, which is responsible for fueling climate change . In present-day America, where the President believes climate change is a “hoax” and has ties to the oil industry, outcomes such as this one are rarely witnessed. Politicians including Sen. McCain, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina all voted against the repeal to prevent the government from drawing up any future rules that might restrict methane emissions. McCain said in a statement , “Passage of the resolution would have prevented the federal government , under any administration, from issuing a rule that is ‘similar’. I join the call for strong action to reduce pollution from venting, flaring and leaks associated with oil and gas production operations on public and Indian land.” McCaine added that the smarter thing the Trump administration could have done was to release an updated rule to improve the one passed during Obama’s time as President. Related: Senate Republicans could save methane rules from Trump Commenting on McCain’s surprising stance, Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund said, “The oil and gas industry gets into power and the first thing they ask for is a repeal of pollution rules, it just doesn’t make people happy. Senator McCain once again demonstrated that he is a voice of common sense and reason.” According to the Bureau of Land Management , enough methane gas is wasted by drillers to supply 6.2 million homes a year. This, in turn, costs taxpayers $46 to $204 million in lost royalties. Considering solar technology is becoming more affordable and countries such as Germany and Costa Rica have already proven populations can thrive on renewable energy , it seems clear the future is green. Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute deemed the outcome “disappointing” and is calling for a review of the rule under a new executive order which was recently released by the White House. However, because of the short time limit on the CRA, it is now too late for another Congressional resolution to take place to repeal the BLM methane rule. Via The Washington Post , BuzzFeed Image via Colorado Politics , Newsmax.com

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Only 25 glaciers remain in Montana’s shrinking Glacier National Park

May 11, 2017 by  
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Our warming climate is ravaging the storied glaciers of Montana’s Glacier National Park . The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Portland State University recently released data revealing the devastation of climate change on the area over 50 years. The park’s glaciers shrunk by 39 percent on average, but some dwindled by up to 85 percent. An estimated 150 glaciers filled the park in 1850; today there are around 25. The researchers tracked two glaciers on United States Forest Service land and 37 glaciers in Glacier National Park . But now just 26 glaciers in the park are bigger than 25 acres, the benchmark for a body of ice to be correctly termed a glacier. Geologist Andrew Fountain of Portland State said, “While the shrinkage in Montana is more severe than some other places in the U.S., it is in line with trends that have been happening on a global scale.” Related: The Glaciers of Glacier National Park May All Disappear by 2030 The researchers scrutinized digital maps from satellites and aerial photography to measure the outer edges of glaciers in the late summer, when seasonal snow has disappeared and it’s easier to tell how large a glacier truly is. Site visits added to the data. The researchers looked at glaciers in 1966, 1998, 2005, and 2015/2016 to track 50 years of climate change in Glacier National Park. The news isn’t good; it shows visually how the mountain ecosystem has altered in the northern Rocky Mountains. Lead USGS scientist Daniel Fagre said, “The park-wide loss of ice can have ecological effects on aquatic species by changing stream water volume, water temperature, and run-off timing in the higher elevations of the park.” The loss of glaciers in the park named for them could also hurt tourism in the area. The research is intended to help park management and inform the public; according to USGS it will assist scientists in their understanding of the effects of large scale climate patterns on glaciers in distinctive mountain environments . Via United States Geological Survey Images via Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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Only 25 glaciers remain in Montana’s shrinking Glacier National Park

Trump orders review of Obama-era fuel economy standards

March 16, 2017 by  
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In another move aimed at dismantling former President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy, President Donald Trump on Wednesday told car executives and auto workers gathered near Detroit that he would order a review of the fuel economy standards for cars and trucks that were put in place by the Obama Administration in 2012. The rules would have raised average fleetwide fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — well above the current 35.5 mpg requirement that has been credited with decreasing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that climate scientists say are the primary drivers of global warming. Trump spoke at a former WWII bomber factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan that is being repurposed to test autonomous vehicles. The president said that he would “ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories,” adding that the White House is “setting up a task force in every federal agency to identify and remove any regulation that undermines American auto production.” Related: US vehicle emissions hit record low as fuel economy climbs to record high While Trump talked of ending the “assault” on the US auto industry, it is unclear exactly what he is referring to. Despite carmakers complaining about the EPA’s fuel economy standards, a recent report from the regulatory agency found that Detroit was actually outperforming the GHG emission standards while at the same time selling a record number of new cars and trucks. Last year automakers sold a record 17.55 million vehicles  in the US — the seventh straight year of rising sales. Also, Trump didn’t mention that Obama has been credited with helping to save the domestic auto industry. A bipartisan congressional oversight panel concluded that the government intervention resulted in the industry becoming more efficient, allowing automakers “to become more flexible and better able to meet changing consumer demands, while still remaining profitable.” Via The Christian Science Monitor Image 1 , 2 via Wikimedia

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Antique farm equipment reborn as delicate works of art

March 16, 2017 by  
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These stunning nature-inspired sculptures are so beautiful you might not notice at first glance what they’re carved from—old farm equipment. Self-taught artist Dan Rawlings recycles these discarded tools into canvases and sculptures . By giving these forgotten tools new life, he hopes to remind others to appreciate the value of our existing possessions and the environment rather than succumb to the never-ending excesses of commercialism. Based in Gloucestershire, UK, Rawlings is drawn to the fun challenge of working with old found objects that still have sentimental value even if they’re damaged beyond use. Using a variety of tools including a handheld plasma torch, welders , and scalpels, the artist reshapes and carves intricate nature-inspired scenes. He writes: “I try to create images that remind people of the moments when everything seems possible and free; times when climbing a tree, or sitting admiring the way its branches twist and curl means nothing, but means everything.” Related: Artist Nikki Ella Whitlock recycles wine bottle fragments into ethereal mosaics Although Rawlings works with many different materials, he’s most well known for metal carvings . His manipulation of metals can be seen in his reworking of old saws to the walls of vans. + Dan Rawlings

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Antique farm equipment reborn as delicate works of art

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